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HomeNEWSInternational NewsIndia's odyssey in space - an insight

India’s odyssey in space – an insight

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The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) created history when it successfully launched its heaviest payload (6 tons) on its heaviest rocket — Launch Vehicle Mark-3 (LVM-3) earlier called Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark-III carrying 36 satellites of U.K.-based OneWeb into space on 23 Oct 2022. This was the highest number of satellites ever launched from a launcher vehicle. These satellites would now be used to provide high-speed, low-latency internet connectivity.  

The launch facilitated by ISRO’s commercial arm, NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) a Central Public Sector Enterprise (CPSE) has thrown open endless possibilities for India in the global commercial launch service market to ferry international satellites into space. If all goes as scheduled, the LVM-3 rocket is expected to be used for India’s maiden human space flight in late 2024.

The newest three-stage launch vehicle is capable of launching 4,000-kilogram class of satellites into GTO (Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit) and 8,000 kg of payloads into LEO. It has two S200 solid rocket boosters indigenously developed by the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre to provide the thrust required for lift-off in addition to a core comprising L110 liquid propellant and a high thrust C25 cryogenic engine with a propellant loading of 28 tons. The S200 solid motor is among the largest solid boosters in the world with 204 tonnes of solid propellant. The overall length of the vehicle is 43.5 m with a gross lift-off weight of 640 tonnes and a 5m-diameter payload fairing.

The biggest plus point of the LVM3 rocket is that unlike the PSLV or GSLV for geostationary satellites it does not have a fixed orbit. It can go everywhere in — GEO (Geosynchronous Earth Orbit), MEO (Medium Earth Orbit), LEO (Low Earth Orbit) missions to the moon, and the sun. The rocket is designed to launch satellites both into geostationary orbit 35,000 km away from the earth as well as low orbit 600 km – 1,000 km above the earth’s surface.

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The LVM3 was for the first time used for an operational flight to launch the Chandrayaan-2 mission to the moon on 22 July 2019.

India’s odyssey in space dates back about 50 years when the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) — the pioneer space exploration agency of the Government of India was formed on August 15, 1969, to develop and harness space technology for national development.

While Vikram Sarabhai is regarded as the father of the Indian space program, it would be unfair not to mention scientists like C.V. Raman, Meghnad Saha, Homi Bhabha, Satish Dhawan, Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan and Dr K. Sivan – the Rocket Man of India. It is because of their collective effort that ISRO is one of the top six largest space agencies and India ranks among the elite space-age superpowers in the world today.

Till the late 60s, even the thought of India emerging as a leader in space technology in future seemed impossible. India was perceived as a place for outsourcing work not because of superior science and engineering skills but because of a cost advantage. But today India is one of the elite groups of space-faring nations like the USA, China, and Russia. It is considered one of the most economically viable launch-pad for launching satellites and space missions in the world. This reinforces India’s commitment to becoming self-sufficient in space-age technologies.  

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Mission Space – baby steps to giant leaps

The Indian Space Program actually got off the ground when the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) was established near Thiruvanathapuram in Kerala which was ideal for rocket launching because the geomagnetic equator of the earth passes over Thumba.  

On 21 Nov 1963 the maiden launch of Nike Apache an American two-stage sounding rocket from Thumba for assessing the physical parameters of the upper atmosphere was nothing less than a miracle that marked the birth of the Indian Space Program.  This was followed in quick succession by the launch of the Satellite Telecommunication Earth Station at Ahmedabad and the take-off of RH-75 – India’s first indigenous-sounding rocket in 1967.

A few years later, India launched Aryabhata – the first Indian Satellite from the former Soviet Union on April 19, 1975.

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During 1975-76, ISRO and NASA developed the space communications system for TV broadcasting. This resulted in the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) project– ‘the largest sociological experiment in the world to use satellite broadcasting for educating around 200,000 people in 2400 towns and villages across six states in India using the American Technology Satellite ATS-6.

The world looked up to applaud India’s feat when it launched 104 nanosatellites into orbit from a single rocket a record-breaking feat. The success story behind this was written with the development of the PSLV satellite launcher with a high success rate. ISRO then went on to launch many satellites in quick succession, increasing the payloads to deserve the tag of a trusted, reliable and cost-effective service provider for satellite launches in the world.

Here are a few glimpses of the arduous journey in space that put India on the global map:

  1. Aryabhatta – In what was an iconic moment India’s first satellite named after Aryabhatta the noted Indian astronomer was launched on 19th April 1975.      
  2. Satellite Launch Vehicle-3 (SLV-3) was India’s first experimental satellite and four-stage vehicle launched on July 18, 1980.  The SLV-3 put Rohini in orbit and made India the sixth member of the exclusive club of space-faring nations
  3. Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) — India’s third-generation launch vehicle, equipped with liquid stages was launched in October 1994.  It emerged as a reliable launch vehicle with 39 consecutively successful missions. The vehicle launched 48 Indian and 209 satellites for customers abroad between 1994 and 2017. The vehicle also successfully launched two spacecraft – Chandrayaan-1 in 2008 and Mars Orbiter Spacecraft (MOM) in 2013.
  4. Chandrayaan-I: India’s first mission to the moon in October 2008 completed over 3,400 orbits around the moon and for the first time confirmed the existence of water on the lunar surface.    
  5. Mangalyaan – Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was India’s first interplanetary mission in 2013. It made India the first nation in the world to reach the Martian orbit in its maiden attempt. India also became the fourth space agency in the world to reach Mars orbit.   
  6. Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV): GSLV-D5 was the first successful flight of the GSLV series using the indigenous cryogenic engine. Recently, LVM-3 created history by carrying the highest payload of 5796 Kg and successfully placing 36 satellites into orbit.
  7. Mission Shakti: In a maiden attempt, the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO)   successfully blasted a satellite using its anti-satellite (ASAT) missile on 27 March 2019. With this, India became the fourth country in the world to acquire anti-satellite capabilities.

Aerospace dominance

It is perceived that future wars will witness aerospace as the new battlefield. Space is seen as a lead demonstrator in military technology, hence the race to dominate space for future warfare. 

Keeping this in mind India established two new space agencies: the Defense Space Agency (DSA) and the Defense Space Research Organization (DSRO) in 2019. The DSA’s agenda is to integrate space assets from the three services and develop a strategy for space dominance and warfare, if and when it happens while the DSRO is expected to be a research organization for the deployment of civilian space technology for military purposes.

India is working to increase its military capabilities in the space domain to assert itself as a potent regional power while pursuing its goal of becoming a global power in the future. With every country competing to win this space war, India too does not want to be left behind. India has launched more than 80 spacecraft since its maiden launch in 1975. There is a need to improve the military’s space assets. However, budget constraints have kept India’s defence-related space capabilities in their infancy. In the coming years, India needs to strengthen its space dominance to have the capacity to at least stop its enemies’ coercive space acts.

Search for life in the universe

Survival of the human species, in the long run, lies not on Earth but in outer space. The uncertainties of living on a precarious blue planet are too great not to find new homes that can mitigate the risk of extinction. Human survival gets more secure with every successful mission to Mars.

Cooperation among space-faring nations under the UN umbrella could pave the way for research to establish human colonies on other planets in the solar system or beyond. Future collaboration in space research could lead to an international space station or a sustainable colony beyond Earth. This may help in the survival of life beyond the earth.

In order to achieve the above aim, we need to develop fully reusable space transportation systems, which can carry heavy payloads. Other technology we need to master include in-flight air collection, oxygen liquefaction, ramjet and scramjet engines, ascent turbojet engines and turbofan ramjet engines, and advancement in high-temperature lightweight materials.


 ISRO is developing next-generation launch vehicles with reusable energy and the capacity to lift payloads up to 10 tons that are likely to be ready by 2030. India also eyes setting up of its own space station by 2035, a rare feat indeed. In the changing space security dynamics, India’s space program has developed credible launch capabilities.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced the Gaganyaan Project – a human space flight program to put Indian astronauts in space by 2024. If India manages to achieve this feat, it will not only bring laurels to the country but will also showcase ISRO as a leading player space player. Indian Government has increased the budget for its space program. The country is working to increase its capabilities in the space domain to assert itself as a potent regional power while pursuing its goal of becoming a global power in the future.

India’s space security threats are increasing due to belligerent Sino-Pak at its doorstep. In future, India will have to enhance its capabilities and influence the global governance of space. This means India will have to focus on technology while nurturing space security partnerships with like-minded countries, and maybe QUAD member states.

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Maj. Gen. C P Singh
Maj. Gen. C P Singh
Maj Gen C P Singh is a scholar soldier accredited with MA, MSc, LLB, MBA, M Phil (Def Mgt.) and M Phil. (International Strategic Affairs). An avid reader and prolific writer, he is a Social Activist, Career Consultant and Motivational Speaker.


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